WASHINGTON - A major push is under way to change the rules in the U.S. Senate, amid claims that the Republican minority is using filibusters simply to stall or stop any meaningful legislation from getting a vote.
Fifty-one national groups have formed a coalition called "Fix the Senate Now." Shane Larson, legislative director for the Communications Workers of America, says the GOP is abusing the filibuster. He cites the unprecedented numbers now compared with those of the 1950s, when Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, a future vice president and president, was in charge of the Senate.
"Lyndon Johnson was majority lader of the United States Senate for six years. There was one filibuster, and that was over the Civil Rights Act. Harry Reid has been majority leader for the same amount of time. Under that six-year period, Republicans have launched 386 filibusters."
To stop what it sees as filibuster abuse, the coalition wants to reinstate the "talking filibuster," whereas now senators who object don't even have to take the floor. Larson says the ability to filibuster a "motion to proceed" should also be eliminated, because it's being used to stop bills from even coming up for debate.
"And by the way, if you want to filibuster, take the floor and have to stand there and explain. And the members of the coalition, all the groups - the 51 national organizations - have called for this reform because we believe it's good for democracy for people to object to these things to actually have to take the Senate floor, and explain why they're trying to hold it up and slow it down."
Another member of the Fix The Senate Now coalition is the Alliance for Justice. Its president, Nan Aron, says filibuster abuse has become so widespread that some Republicans are using it to block judicial nominees - even those who have their party's support.
"It's obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism. It's not thought out. It is solely a political tactic used to thwart the majority party and the White House."
Aron believes the process should be streamlined to cut the required hours of post-cloture debate from 30 to two, and so all nominees can at least get a "yes or no" vote on the Senate floor.
More information on the Fix the Senate Now coalition is online at fixthesenatenow.org